Next Generation Tech

I asked my friend Courtney Macivinta, the author of Respect: A Girl’s Guide to Getting Respect & Dealing When Your Line Is Crossed, and an ambassador for the amazing non-profit Girls for a Change, to take some notes while speaking at Next Generation Tech: Teens Plugged In!. While Silicon Valley teens probably don’t represent the average American teen when it comes to technology use, it’s still fun to hear what they’re saying about the internet, cell phones and cheating with iPods! And, I hate to say it, but I have no clue what a “compiler” is.

From Courtney:

Throughout the day, high school and college students — many of whom are entrepreneurs in their own right — spoke to a room full of companies, press, VCs and some youth marketers about the gadgets they’re using, the web sites they use, the games they play, and the media or online companies they’ve started recently. Some, like 19-year-old morning keynote Ben Casnocha, who just wrote a new book, “My Start-Up Life,” talked about their business and leadership philosophies and how to fund your ideas.

The high school panel included 9 girls and guys and focused mostly on how technology is integrated into their daily lives. Many in the audience seemed to really want to know: What do teens want? Here’s some of the insights the panelists offered:

* They have a bit of blog fatigue and the majority no longer maintained their personal blogs. (This goes to show that being a publisher in any form always presents the same quandary: You have to feed the beast).

* They all Google themselves and find random things like past cross-country running scores to awards they won in 6th grade, or a person with their same name who owns a refrigerator store on the east coast.

* They think the “danger of social networking sites” story is way overblown (as do I). One girl said: “They are enough MySpace articles to sink a thousand ships. We know, we get it!” They also pointed to a trend I’ve seen over and over: More teens are making their profiles private and really use sites like MySpace to keep in touch with current friends not to meet new ones. To switch to a new social network site seemed like a pain to most. One said, “It would have to be really special and I’d have to know people there.” Most of the panelists nodded their head in agreement.

* These panelists, for one, didn’t shop online much. They were sticklers about things like shipping costs and most used the Web to research offline purchases.

* Yes, they all have mobile phones (some said they couldn’t live without theirs) but some are also on a budget and try to stick it when it comes to text-messaging costs.

* One guy admitted to cheating via his iPod or texting, which elicited gasps from the crowd (and a sarcastic comment from his dad who was THERE: “Then why don’t you get better grades?”) Once he fessed up there was a bit of a confession domino effect and a young woman admitted she’d cheated along the same lines before too.

The college panel shared these additional observations:

* They think the iPhone sounds cool; some had a smart phone; they had arguments for and against the value of browsing the web via their phone (some said sites don’t look great, others do nothing but surf the web with their phone.) None had a landline phone. One panelist said he didn’t want a smart phone because if he lost it “it would be like losing a girlfriend.”

* All used Facebook but mentioned that they already, or would soon, use LinkedIn for more professional contacts.

* They found themselves doing more email than IM these days to keep in touch with contacts (probably that growing list of business contacts).

On both panels, MySpace universally was out of favor (even if the panelists still had a profile up) because it was too “gawdy” or “cluttered.”

One thing I really enjoyed was hearing about the companies these young adults had started like:

* Elementeo.com (the 13-year-old founder launched interactive trading card came to teach kids about chemistry)
* Comcate Inc. (This is Ben’s company–an e-gov start-up he founded at age 14)
* Composite Labs (they make and sell robot kits)
* CollegeWikis.com (name speaks for itself, but I liked that they allow users to capture email list discussions in their shared Wiki so they can save and search the discussions)
* GumballCapital.org (micro-loans funded by college students)
* Millennial Productions (creating low-cost short videos for clients)
* Palo Alto High School Robotics Team (the team created, among other things, a laser triggering device that enables quadriplegics the ability to push buttons, for example)
* Votsu.com (a Latin American social networking site)

As an ambassador for Girls For A Change, I did an afternoon keynote, “Is It Becoming a Woman’s Web?” (My answer: Yes!) I shared how I see women and girls shaping the entire experience, usability and utility of the Web — even those of us who don’t hold Computer Science degrees or work in IT. I also recommended that companies take care to invite girls to the table as leaders, advisors, mentees, product reviewers, and give them the space to explore their visions (it’s always a win-win).

My favorite quote of the day from a teen girl for Palo Alto High School: “I couldn’t live without my compiler — I love my compiler!”

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